After travels through Texas and the Bahamas that kept Air Force on the road for eight days, four games and zero victories, the events Sunday came as a great relief.
The Falcons returned home and hammered Jackson State 76-52 and, perhaps most importantly, refamiliarized themselves with the feeling of winning.
“We needed to win a game,” coach Dave Pilipovich said.
This victory came with relative ease. Abe Kinrade scored seven straight points to give Air Force a 13-7 lead early in the first half, and the Falcons shot 59.1% while limiting the Tigers to 34.5%.
The hope on the team is this will serve as a springboard into conference play, which starts early this season with two games this week — a trip to Wyoming on Wednesday and a home game vs. Nevada on Saturday. The Mountain West moved its tournament up a week to avoid conflicts in Las Vegas, so the two extra games had to be squeezed in earlier in the schedule.
“It’s still not there yet,” Pilipovich said. “We’ve got to still get better.”
The Falcons’ four losses — at TCU and against Loyola Marymount, Duquesne and Indiana State in a tournament in the Bahamas — followed similar scripts in that they fell behind early, threatened to get back into the game, but ultimately were hurt off the dribble and had issues against opponents’ size. Statistically speaking, the trip was an accurate preview of what will follow in conference. The four opponents Air Force faced averaged 135.2 according to Real-Time RPI. The Falcons’ 10 Mountain West foes currently average 139.2.
“We’d play good for 5 minutes and for 10 minutes we’d play awful and shoot ourselves in the foot,” senior forward Lavelle Scottie said. “All of the sudden we’ve got to play catch-up to get back in the game, and you don’t want to be playing catch-up like that against good teams.”
That wasn’t all going to be fixed on Sunday — though Pilipovich thought it was the best execution of a defensive game plan this season — but the feeling of confidence could be re-found from a team that entered the season with high hopes. And that may have been achieved.
“This win was much-needed to get back to the direction we want to go,” said Scottie, who scored 12 points. “There’s a lot of season left.”
Added guard Caleb Morris, who scored 16 points, “This game brings us back focused.”